What are we looking at when we see Carol Bove’s peacock feather covered canvasses? The gallery press release talks about the ‘feathers’ unique concurrence of ornament and function’ and how this is a metaphor for the blurred boundaries and dual function of other sculptures found in the exhibition. By this reasoning, a leopard skin stretched over a canvas would provide another unique concurrence of ornament and function, or a snakeskin or, far from unique, any other exotic animal skin. Of course if she had used a leopard skin our reading of it would be dominated by the ethics of exploiting endangered species and cruelty to animals and it wouldn’t serve very well as a metaphor for anything else in the show. But I would argue that the exploitation of animals is and should be the dominant reading here too.

The vast majority of feathers on the market are the result of cruel processes that exploit animals.  Peacocks do shed their feathers every year and it is possible to buy small amounts from dealers claiming to be cruelty free. However, there are over 1,300 perfectly similar looking feathers in this artwork and we have no information where they came from. I attempted to contact Carol Bove through her Gallery and asked if the feathers were ethically sourced. David Zwirner New York said that my question was passed on to her but I have heard nothing back.

Even if these feathers were somehow ethically sourced, without any other information available at the gallery the message goes out that is it all right to use feathers and by extension, to abuse animals’ bodies to express something, to make art, which it never is.  We have no right to exploit other sentient creatures simply because they are a different species from our own.